Aquaculture is an industry still dominated by small-scale farmers. Although nearly 70 percent of the global aquaculture production originates from small-scale farming sector, almost no small-scale farmers or farming systems are currently certified. Certification of small-scale aquaculture has been an issue, mainly due to the unbearable cost of certification as well as difficulties in complying to the required certification standards.
Many small-scale farmers find themselves difficult to comply with the standards set by the certifiers, mainly due to lack of finance, technical knowledge and organizational capacity. In some cases, it is also evident that necessary state support, including appropriate national policy and legal environment, does not exist in some countries. Therefore, improving the knowledge of small-scale aquafarmers on how to comply with certification standards, as well as to identify national policy and regulatory gaps supporting small-scale aquaculture certification, is becoming necessary.
The FAO Technical Guidelines on Aquaculture Certification, developed after a transparent and exhaustive consultative process, was approved by FAO Committee on Fisheries in 2011. The guidelines provide guidance for the development, organization and implementation of credible aquaculture schemes. A range of issues considered in the guidelines include the following: (1) animal health and welfare; (2) food safety; (3) environmental integrity; and (4) socio-economic aspects. Since its approval and adoption by FAO members, established third-party aquaculture certification schemes claimed that their schemes are in compliance with FAO guidelines. Several national aquaculture certification schemes which came to effect recently also endorsed FAO guidelines as the basis for developing theirs schemes. The FAO member states subsequently requested FAO to develop evaluation framework for assessing conformity of certification schemes with the FAO Guideline. Based on the those efforts, multi-stakeholder initiative “Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI)” has developed the Global Benchmarking Tool to measure the performance of certification schemes in order to facilitate their implementation and the use.
Assistance to small-scale aquaculture and to developing countries is one of the fundamental principles of these technical guidelines on aquaculture certification. Thus special and preferential assistance to the small-scale farming sector and to developing countries is given in the implementation of aquaculture certification.
In this context, small-scale aquaculture is defined as aquaculture farms with small production volume, and/or relatively small-scale surface area, mainly without permanent labour, and typically lacking technical and financial capacity to support individual certification.
A small group of experts on small-scale aquaculture, aquaculture certification and aquatic animal health are currently discussing a format and framework to develop a compliance manual series to advice small-scale aquaculture farmers, how to comply with the FAO technical guidelines on aquaculture certification.
Mr Jose Luis Fernandez, FAO Representative to the Philippines, welcomed the experts and emphasized the importance of certification to access markets. Small-scale farmers continuously face challenges including low production volume, higher production cost, lack of financial support, and limited control of sales of products. So how can we assist small-scale producers to comply with aquaculture certification? Cluster certification may be a way forward for small-scale producers.